Monday, March 28, 2011

Banana-Almond Breakfast Barley

Barley for breakfast might seem like an odd concept for some, but whole grains make truly excellent morning fare.  They have lots of fiber and even some protein, two things a good breakfast should definitely contain.  They also end up being far less expensive than packaged cereal (though you always want to try and find whole grains in bulk, as packaged grains tend to be marked up significantly).   Make it ahead of time and you'll have a hot breakfast in less than two minutes the next morning and throughout the week! 

This recipe is also a really wonderful way to use overripe bananas.  How many of us have thrown out brown bananas because we knew we'd never get around to making banana bread?  Instead, remove the fruit from its peel, throw it in a container or plastic bag and freeze it.  Frozen bananas are great to have around if you like to make smoothies, or you can think of other creative ways to use them up!

Banana-Almond Breakfast Barley
makes 6 to 8 servings

2 T butter (or non-dairy substitute)
5 overripe bananas (about 2 cups)
1 1/2 cups pearled barley
3-4 cups milk (or substitute - almond or coconut milk work best)
2 tsp salt
1 tsp herbs de provence (optional)
1/2 cup sliced almonds

Add butter to a large saucepan and melt over medium-high heat.  Add bananas and allow to lightly caramelize in the butter for about 5 minutes.  Add barley and stir.  Reduce heat to medium and add 2 cups of milk, salt and herbs de provence.  Allow barley to simmer, uncovered, reducing heat to medium-low once liquid starts to bubble.  Stir frequently until barley has absorbed most of the liquid.  Add another cup of milk and repeat the cooking process.  Barley will take at least 30 minutes to cook.  It should be chewy but not at all chalky in the center (if after 3 cups it still doesn't taste done, add one more cup and repeat cooking process).  Once the barley is cooked, add sliced almonds.  Taste and adjust salt if necessary.  Mix well and serve.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Asian Cole Slaw with Ginger-Peanut Dressing

I'll just say it right now:  I love this recipe!  The dressing is super-flavorful, tangy, garlicky and rich tasting and the vegetables are fresh and crunchy.  It is the perfect balance of healthful, wholesome food with enough good fat to make you feel satisfied.  

Asian Cole Slaw with Ginger-Peanut Dressing
serves 4

1 lb firm tofu
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup peanut oil
6 cups shredded cabbage (mixture of green and red varieties)
2 carrots, shredded
1 yellow pepper, sliced very thin
1 red pepper, sliced very thin
1 cup cilantro leaves
1 bunch scallions, sliced thin

Juice of 2 limes (about 1/8 of a cup)
4 garlic cloves
2 T rice vinegar
3 T soy sauce
2 T fresh ginger, minced
1 T agave syrup (or honey)
1 T sriracha chili sauce
1 T toasted seasame oil
1/4 cup peanut butter

Slice tofu into four 1/2 inch thick rectangles and drain between two cutting boards lined with dish towels (or paper towels).  Allow tofu to press for at least 30 minutes for best results.

Meanwhile, make the dressing.  Add all the dressing ingredients in a small blender and puree until it reaches a creamy, thick consistency.  Thin with a little water, if desired.

Place the flour in a small plate and lightly dredge each piece of tofu.  In a large, flat-bottomed pan, heat peanut oil over medium-high and fry the tofu pieces until browned and crispy, about 5 minutes per side.  Remove tofu from oil and drain on a paper towel.  Season with just a little pinch of salt.

In a large bowl, combine vegetables and all but 1/8 cup of dressing (enough to spread over the tofu pieces) and toss well to combine.  Spread the remaining dressing over the tofu pieces and cut into triangles.  Serve cole slaw with tofu triangles arranged on top.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Vegetable Burritos

It seems to me that one of the most common misconceptions about healthy eating is that it costs more.  In my experience, this is not so!  In fact, when I was a perpetually broke college student a whole decade ago, I ate very well on a minuscule food budget.  Lots of beans and rice, lentils, yoghurt, applesauce and other simple, wholesome foods were the staples of my diet back then.   

This burrito recipe is a perfect example of how to eat well without spending a lot of money.  All the ingredients are widely available, beans are about the cheapest source of protein there is, and the veggies can be just about anything you have in the fridge.  You can make a huge diversity of variations depending on what you have, what's on sale, or what's in season, including zucchini, asparagus, leeks, eggplant, potatoes, and just about anything else you can think of!  Choose what you like and make the recipe in big batches, because these burritos are great for freezing. 

Vegetable Burritos
makes about 6 burritos

1 pound dried pinto beans
3 T olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 T ground cumin
1 tsp cayenne
salt and pepper to taste

1 T olive oil
2 red bell peppers, chopped
2 green bell peppers, chopped
1/2 yellow onion, sliced
1/2 bunch kale, stems removed and chopped
6 whole wheat tortillas

First, make the beans.  Pick through beans and remove any rocks.  In a pressure cooker, add dried beans and enough water to fill half the pot.  Cook at high pressure for 10 minutes.  Remove from heat and allow to de-pressurize at room temp.  When beans have cooled, slightly, remove from pressure cooker and strain in a colander.  Rinse well.

In a large pot over medium-high heat, add olive oil.  Once hot, add onions and saute until soft, about 5 minutes.  Add garlic and cook for another minute.  Add beans, cumin, cayenne, salt and pepper and stir to combine.  Use a wooden spoon to mash the beans as you cook and stir them for about 10 minutes.  If you like a smoother consistency, add about 1/2 cup vegetable stock and puree with a hand blender.  Remove from heat and set aside.

Meanwhile, in a large flat-bottomed pan over medium-high heat, add olive oil.  Add peppers and onion and fry until onions darken and peppers are soft.  Add kale and season with salt.  Remove from heat and stir frequently until kale is softened by the heat of the other vegetables.

Add a large spoonful (about 2/3 a cup) of beans to each tortilla and spread around, leaving about 1 inch of room around the edge.  Top with a large spoonful of veggies and roll into a burrito.  Serve with salsa, hot sauce, fresh cilantro, avocado slices, or guacamole, if desired.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Spaghetti Squash with Beans & Greens

Truth be told, I have never been all that impressed with the Spaghetti Squash.  The somewhat trendy tendency to treat it as a replacement for pasta is, for me, utterly unsatisfying.  There's something about a pile of squash with spaghetti sauce that leaves me feeling cheated.  However, if you start treating this vegetable as a vegetable, rather than spaghetti in disguise, it becomes something else entirely!  The light, delicate sweetness and interesting texture of spaghetti squash make it an excellent home for bright, zingy flavors and crispy textures. 

This recipe is simple, cleansing and light.  It makes an excellent post-over-indulgence type of meal (I often like to have something like that on Mondays to give the week a refreshing start).  You can also make this as a side dish to go alongside any protein with bright flavors like lemon and white balsamic vinegar. 

Spaghetti Squash with Beans & Greens

1 Spaghetti Squash
2 cups kale, stems removed and torn into bite-sized pieces
2 cups brussels sprouts, leaves separated and core removed
2 cups broccoli florets, roughly chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
zest of two lemons, juice reserved
2 cups white beans, cooked (canellini or navy work well)
1 tsp cumin
salt and pepper
1 T olive oil
2 tsp walnut oil
1 tsp peanut oil
1 T white balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup sliced almonds (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Half the spaghetti squash length-wise and place on a lightly oiled baking sheet, cut side-down.  Roast squash until soft, about 30 minutes. 

Meanwhile, toss the kale, brussels, and broccoli with garlic, lemon zest, olive oil and salt to taste and place on a large baking sheet.  Bake, tossing mixture occasionally, until some of the leaves are crispy, about 10 minutes.

Once squash has cooled a little, use a large spoon to scrape the stringy flesh into a large bowl.  In a separate bowl, whisk the cumin, lemon juice, balsamic, peanut and walnut oils, and salt and pepper to taste until combined.  Add to squash and toss well.  Add greens, white beans and almonds and toss just before serving (so the greens stay a little crispy).

Monday, March 14, 2011

Happy Peanut Noodles with Crispy Tofu

I discovered the wonderful world of Asian-style peanut sauces during my first job as a line cook.  Since then, I have made it with lots of variations and enjoyed them all - you almost can't go wrong!  Peanut butter adds a wholesome richness to the sauce, while soy sauce gives it that signature salty, umami taste. 

For all of you out there who insist that tofu sucks, don't be scared away!  Tofu, in fact, does suck when you don't prepare it right.  Some people are perfectly happy with some plain-tasting, soggy bits of un-prepared tofu thrown into any old stir fry but, well, that's just not the way we do things here!  Pressing the tofu allows it to acheive a more chewy, toothsome texture so for best results, do this step well-ahead of time.  The better you press it, the tastier the tofu will be!

Happy Peanut Noodles with Crispy Tofu
makes 2 large or 3 regular-sized servings

1/2 a package dried Udon noodles (about 5 ounces)
peanut oil, for frying
1/2 lb. extra firm tofu
1/4 cup flour
1 carrot, cut into matchsticks
1 large red pepper, cut into matchsticks
3 cups baby bok choy, sliced
1 bunch scallions, sliced thin
3 cloves garlic
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup peanut butter (unsweetened)
2 T rice vinegar (or white vinegar)
1-3 T sriracha chili sauce (to taste)

Slice the tofu into 4 thin squares and very gently squeeze to remove excess water.  Place a towel (or a couple of paper towels) on a cutting board, then top with tofu squares.  Add another towel and another cutting board on top of the tofu.  Place a large pot, or any other heavy item, on top of the cutting board and allow tofu to squeeze dry.  If using paper towels, you may have to change them out once or twice until most of the water is absorbed (at least an hour or more if you have time).

Once tofu is ready, fill a large, shallow, flat-bottomed pan with about 1/4 inch of peanut oil and place on medium heat.  Once oil is heated, gently place the tofu squares in the pan.  Fry each side until nice and golden, about 4-6 minutes per side.  Remove tofu from pan and drain on a paper towel.  Dump all but a couple of teaspoons of the oil from the pan and set aside. 

Meanwhile, cook udon noodles according to package directions and drain in a colander.  Set aside.

Make peanut sauce.  In a blender, add garlic, soy sauce, peanut butter, vinegar, and chili sauce and puree until smooth.  Add a little water to thin the sauce to desired consistency.  Set aside.

Return the tofu pan to medium heat and add the pepper and carrot.  Stir fry until just a little tender, about 3 minutes.  Add bok choy and remove from heat.  In a large bowl, combine noodles, vegetables, scallions and half the peanut sauce and toss well to combine.  Cut tofu squares in half diagonally.  Place them on top of the noodles and drizzle some or all of the remaining sauce directly on the tofu. 

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Waste not... How to get the most out of your produce

I was inspired, today, by a couple of wrinkly, sad-looking red peppers sitting in my fridge.  Being an impulsive pepper-purchaser, I had just brought two new ones home from the store, but I didn't want to see the not-so-fresh ones go to waste!  Statistics show that about 40% of all food grown and produced in the United States is thrown away.  As in, wasted.  Surprising?  Next time you clean out your refrigerator to make room for new groceries, take a good look at how much you end up throwing out and you will be surprised no more.  We are, all of us, guilty of either buying too much at one time or another.

The good news is, when you start paying attention to creating a minimal-waste environment in your home, you might find that you'll save a lot of money!  No matter who you are or how much time you have, there are most certainly ways for you to cut down on your waste, and here are a few I'd like to share:


Lately, I've been buying Meyer Lemons like they're going out of style!  Meyers are one of my favorite winter fruits because they are incredibly useful and have the most delightful flavor.  However, if you use lemons in a recipe you might find that often times, you tend not to use the whole fruit.  Sometimes you just need the zest, sometimes just the juice, or sometimes only half a fruit.  Here are some things I like to do with the remnants:

1.  Leftover Juice:

- Store it:  Once you've grated all the zest you need off the lemon, squeeze the juice (straining the seeds, of course) into a tupperware or glass jar and keep it in the fridge.  If you won't be using lemon juice that week (although I can't imagine going a week without using lemon juice...) stick it in the freezer and keep it as long as you like!
- Slice it up:  After zesting the fruit, slice the rest of the lemon into thin rounds and put in a small tupperware.  Throw a slice in while you are brewing tea, or squeeze it in a glass of water.  Delicious!

2.  Leftover Rind or Zest:

- Store it:  I have been trying to drink more mate and tea (as opposed to coffee) lately, and I love throwing a little leftover lemon rind in the cup as it brews, adding a hint of lemony goodness to each sip.

- Dry it out:  if you ever have a recipe that just calls for fresh lemon juice, always zest the lemon first.  Not only does this make it easier to squeeze, but you can air-dry the zest and keep it in a closed container to use the next time you need it.


How many of us have bought peppers, only to subject them to a slow, shriveling death in the fridge?  I tend to buy peppers impulsively and with reckless abandon, so this has happened to me before.  Luckily there are a few ways to make your peppers last if they are about to go bad!  Use these tips when you see those wrinkles start to form:

1.  Roast 'em!  There are a number of ways to do this, most of which are entirely acceptable.  The goal is to get the skin a little blackened, allow to cool, then peel away the skin to reveal that marvelous-tasting pepper flesh.  You can blacken them by grilling, roasting, pan-roasting, foil-roasting, or even scorching them over an open flame (if you have a gas stove, that is).  Just make sure you use high heat to acheive the blackened effect, otherwise they will be very difficult to peel and won't have the same lovely flavor.

2.  Freeze:  Once you've roasted the peppers, add a little vegetable stock (or water) and puree in a blender or food processor.  You can use pureed peppers for a million different things, including dressing, soup, hummus, pepper pesto, and tomato sauce.  Once frozen, pepper puree will stay good for quite a while.

3.  Preserve them:  Roasted peppers will basically last forever if you have the equipment necessary to jar and preserve them.  I also found a fantastic article from UC Davis that will give you more information on preserving and storing peppers than you could possibly need to know!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Winter Vegetable Risotto

The wonderful thing about risotto is that you can take a few humble vegetables, stock, and arborio rice and you end up with an elegant, one-pot meal.  True, if you are not a well-practiced cook it might take a few tries to get it right, but once you know the basics you can make it a thousand different ways with excellent results.

There are a few things worth noting before you get started.  First, the dish needs a lot of supervising, so I like to have other projects going in the kitchen to keep myself busy, while having to constantly stir the pot.  For instance, you can clean and put away the dishes, bake something, or read a good book.  Just don't forget to keep stirring!  Second, keep an eye on the pot.  It is OK to walk away for a minute or two when you have liquid protecting the rice, but once you get to the stage when most of the stock is absorbed, that's when it is very important to keep stirring.  Otherwise, the ingredients will stick to the pot and make an unpleasant mess to clean up.  Lastly, once the risotto is ready you want to serve it right away.  I usually turn the heat off as soon as the rice is on the chalky side of al dente (soft enough to chew, but still a little "raw" in the center).  As I take a few minutes to get the table set, the rice has a chance to reach al dente perfection! 

This dish, in particular, is a more wholesome take on the traditional Italian risotto.  I use olive oil instead of butter and there is no wine or cheese (although, a grating of parmiggiano reggiano on top would be a lovely addition).  I find that when the butternut squash starts to dissolve it adds a body and creaminess that replace the need for cheese, and this dish has so much flavor you won't miss the wine at all.  I also like to add a handful of crispy kale on top, for some color and crunch (not to mention nutrients!).  Either way, it is a very comforting and satisfying dish that will help keep you warm through all those cold winter evenings. 

Winter Vegetable Risotto
serves 6

4-6 cups of vegetable stock
2 T olive oil
1 large leek, sliced and washed
4 cups butternut squash (about 1/2 a small squash), peeled and large-diced
1 cup arborio rice
2 cups crimini mushrooms (about 8 oz), chopped
2 T fresh sage, chopped
Crispy kale (optional)

Add stock to a small saucepan.  Bring to a simmer over high heat, then reduce to low heat and keep warm on the stove.  In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat olive oil over medium-high.  Add leeks and squash and saute until vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes.  Add rice and stir to combine.

Add a ladle of stock (or about 1/3 a cup) to the rice and stir well.  Continue to stir as the liquid is absorbed and when most of the liquid is gone, add another ladle.  Repeat this process of adding liquid and stirring until most of the stock is gone, or the rice is al dente (20 minutes or more).  Add mushrooms and sage in the last couple of minutes, stirring well to combine.  Serve immediately with crispy kale on top, if desired.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Spaghetti with White Bean Sauce and Crispy Kale

This recipe was inspired by a recipe in Robin Robertson's "Vegan Planet" (an excellent cookbook for Vegans and Veggie lovers alike).  I make it with whole wheat spaghetti (though any wholesome pasta variety will do) and throw in lots of luscious, green kale for good measure.  The pureed beans have a slightly creamy texture which makes the sauce taste rich without adding any cream, cheese or butter. 

The other marvelous thing about this recipe is, it's cheap to make!  I buy dried white beans in bulk.  They are less convenient to use, but you save a lot of money versus buying cooked beans in a can (not to mention there's far less packaging involved, so it is better for the environment).  I also think dried beans taste a little better since canned beans tend to have that slightly "tinny" flavor.  Don't bother soaking beans overnight, especially if you have a pressure cooker.  Many people might tell you otherwise, but I literally never pre-soak my beans (and, BTW, Rick Bayless also recommends skipping this step!) because I try to eliminate uneccessarily time-consuming steps whenever possible.  If you don't have a pressure cooker, I would strongly recommend buying one.  It will be your new favorite cooking instrument!

Spaghetti with White Bean Sauce and Crispy Kale
Serves 6

3 T olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups cooked white beans
2 T chopped sage
1/2 tsp white pepper
4 cups vegetable stock or water
2 T white balsamic vinegar (optional)
1 lb. whole wheat spaghetti
6 cups chopped kale, stems removed

Preheat oven to 350.  Toss kale with 1 T olive oil and a sprinkling of salt.  Arrange on a large baking sheet in a single layer, then bake until crispy, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to boil.  In a large saucepan, heat the rest of the olive oil on medium.  Add onions and garlic and saute until soft, about 7 minutes.  Add beans and sage and stir to combine.  Add stock, turn up heat to high and bring mixture to a boil for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the liquid reduces slightly.  Reduce heat and puree with a hand blender until smooth.  Keep heat on low and allow to thicken until it reaches desired consistency, at least 10 minutes.

Cook spaghetti in pot of boiling water according to package instructions.  Drain in a colander and add to pot of bean sauce.  Add balsamic vinegar and toss well.  Serve spaghetti with a handful or crispy kale on top.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

It's a brand-new blog!

Welcome, everybody!  I'm so excited to announce the start of my brand-new blog, Counter Culture Cuisine!  I am working with a new format and with some new goals in mind that I want to tell you about...

One reason I am starting a new blog is that when I started 365 Days of Good Dinners, I just couldn't think of a better name :)  Second, I really want to emphasize not just "good dinners" but the idea of a counter culture lifestyle of healthful eating.  It may seem odd to call it a counter culture, but just look at the facts...  Most Americans eat at fast-food restaurants more than once a week (and let me be the first to admit, I have at certain times in my life fallen into this category!).  Most grocery store conglomerates who will remain nameless don't offer the kinds of things that are good for you to eat.  Eating well also has the stereotype of costing more (which, believe me, it doesn't have to).  Also, and perhaps most importantly, so many of us just don't set aside the time to cook on a regular basis.  But you know what?  It isn't that hard! 

So my goal is this:  to show the world that eating healthfully is fun, affordable, and will help you feel great about yourself!  So join the food revolution, become a part of the counter culture and start eating right!  I promise, you'll love it.